Webb Middle School
Webb Middle School serves students in grades 6-8 in Austin, Texas. Webb narrowly avoided a closure at the end of the 2006-2007 school year after failing to meet state accountability standards. The neighborhood and community rallied to keep the school open. The school community is committed to raising student achievement.
The Youth Court program launched in the spring of 2010. The population at Webb is likely to be affected by the school-to-prison pipeline. The student body is almost one hundred percent Latino and African-American. Most students are classified by the State of Texas as "at-risk" of low academic achievement or dropping out of school.
Youth Court Participation & Personnel
Middle School participants volunteer or are nominated for the program by teachers, administrators, and school staff. The students selected should reflect a diverse cross-section of the school's population, in terms of academic achievement levels, race and ethnicity, gender, and disciplinary records. Our program meets for 30 minutes during the school's advisory period at the end of the school day. We accept up to 30 students in the class.
30-40 law students volunteer with the program each semester as facilitators or mentors. Mentors work with individual respondents and visit during lunch or advisory periods or after school. Facilitators commit to the program at least one day a week. There are usually 3-10 volunteers at school each day, a wide variance due to law student schedules. Ideally, we run the program with 3-5 volunteers each day, covering each of the students' activities, but two adults may be sufficient to run the program, splitting duties between hearings and restorative justice and respondent support. We partner with a middle school teacher in managing the classroom and running the program.
Youth Court participants spend about four weeks at the beginning of the year preparing for their roles in Youth Court. First, they build relationships and communication skills among their Youth Court peers. Next, students are introduced to Restorative Justice principles, the underlying philosophy behind the program. Finally, students are trained in and practice the skills and procedures necessary to conduct Youth Court hearings. The training process emphasizes themes of citizenship and leadership within the school community, attributes students build on through projects and activities.
Participants are split into "Tribes" they work with throughout the semester. Our Tribes usually consist of 5-6 students, but should include enough students to play the hearing roles. In a given week, tribes are assigned to 1 of 3 duties—preparing for hearings, preparing for jury service, or performing citizenship projects. Youth Court conducts two hearings each week, and each tribe rotates through the different duties depending on the week. Throughout the process, students engage their peers to reflect on behavior and its effects on the school learning environment.
Respondents are referred to YC by teachers, counselors, or Assistant Principals, who provide information about the respondents' offenses or needs. Youth Court representatives meet with potential respondents. Respondents may choose to participate in Youth Court hearings and accept and complete Youth Court consequences to avoid imminent punitive disciplinary measures such as suspension, expulsion, or ticketing.
Respondents should be referred to Youth Court as soon as possible after the offense occurred, so that their experience in the program will be a meaningful connection to the behavior that lead to their referral, and to prevent other disciplinary measures. Youth Court should not supplement or add to traditional disciplinary measures, like a school removal. Respondents may choose to participate in Youth Court in order to avoid such punishments. Sometimes, students are placed in ISS until we meet with them, but return to regular classes when they agree to participate in Youth Court.
We take referrals any time. Youth Court school advocates are responsible for ensuring that they have referrals when they begin preparing for hearings. We typically begin hearing prep on Mondays and hold hearings on Thursdays and Fridays, but frequently meet with respondents referred the week earlier to begin their participation in the program. We aim to move from referral, to hearing, and through completion of assigned consequences in under three weeks. This connects the behavior, hearing experience, and students' efforts to restore themselves in the school in a timely and meaningful way. We continue to meet with and support many students beyond that timeline to reinforce positive habits in school.
Youth Court defense advocates and school advocates conduct detailed interviews with respondents, teachers, and administrators. Respondents are encouraged to speak candidly about their behavior, explain possible mitigating circumstances, and participate actively in suggesting consequences that may meet their needs. Witnesses and victims may also be interviewed, and also encouraged to share details about specific incidents and make suggestions for how respondents may take active steps toward repairing their behavior in school.
Hearings are meant to be a collaborative process to explore the harms caused by student misbehavior, and make plans grounded in positive consequences to make reparation for harms and improvements for the future. Student advocates make sure the respondents' needs and circumstances are taken into account. School advocates make sure the harm caused by student misbehavior is acknowledged and addressed. Judges keep the hearings moving purposefully. Juries are responsible for choosing effective consequences, and articulating how those consequences meet respondents' needs and will improve future behavior.
After hearings, each respondent is given a UT Law student mentor to help the respondent complete consequences and continue on a path that will restore them to good behavioral standing. When consequences are completed, the respondent participates on a future YC jury. Youth Court participant and respondent disciplinary referrals are tracked throughout the year.
Youth Court Flowchart